December 1, 1880, Died March 1, 1920
Tel Hai, an isolated little
Jewish settlement located in the northern-most
point of Palestine, close to the Syrian
border, saw the fall of Captain Joseph Trumpeldor
in a battle against an Arab horde. Today
the words, "Tel Hai," serve as
the password and salutation of Brit-Trumpeldor,
Betar, to impress on the Jewish mind determination
to fight for our rights in the land of Israel.
He was a Jew. Of his own
accord in his early youth, he came to the
conclusion that our place was in the Land
of Israel and that Jewish youth must prepare
itself and fight for that goal.
He was also a Russian
subject, and when the Russo-Japanese War
broke out, he volunteered for service as
a private in the Russian Army. When asked
how he reconciled this action with his opposition
to the persecution of Jews in Russia, Trumpeldor
explained that he felt obliged to fulfill
his obligations as a citizen despite the
sins of the Russian Government and that,
what was even more important, he wanted
to prove by his action that the charge of
Jewish cowardice was false.
This he proved to the
hilt. During the defense of Port Arthur
he volunteered for service in the Shock
Troops which bore the brunt of Japanese
attacks. In the battle on Ugloway Hill a
shrapnel splinter shattered his left arm
which had to be amputated above the elbow.
After his wound was healed, he wrote his
company commander: "I have only one
hand left but it is the right one. I wish
you would let me carry a sword or a revolver."
His wish was granted and he was made a non-commissioned
officer. He displayed such outstanding heroism
in action that he received all four of the
highest decorations for bravery, the only
Jew in the Russian Empire to be so honored.
He was taken prisoner when Port Arthur surrendered
and spent a year in a Japanese prison.
Returning from imprisonment
Trumpeldor began to work on his project
-- preparation of Halutzim (pioneers) for
the land of Israel. In the autumn of 1912,
he went to Palestine and began to put his
plan into operation. However, he did not
have much time for this work. He was among
the first Jews to be deported by the Turkish
government immediately after the outbreak
of the World War. In Alexandria, where the
refugees were stranded, he met Ze'ev Jabotinsky
and began a new chapter in his life.
Jabotinsky had just proposed
the formation of a Jewish Legion to fight
with the Allies for Palestine. Trumpeldor
grasped the meaning and the importance of
the Legion immediately and plunged wholeheartedly
into the task of creating it. When the first
recruits for the Legion were gathered, the
formation of a Zion Mule Corps was proposed,
which would serve the English forces at
Gallipoli. Trumpeldor declared that it made
no difference where the Turks would be defeated
or on what part of the great front the Legion
would fight. He led the Jewish soldiers
into the thick of the battle under the command
of the great Colonel Patterson.
When the Gallipoli adventure
was abandoned, the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded.
Trumpeldor returned to Russia with the intention
of creating there a vast Jewish Army which
would join Jabotinsky's newly-formed genuine
Jewish Legion in Eretz Israel and thus secure
the land for the Jews. While he was in Russia,
however, the Revolution broke out and nothing
could be done in the ensuing chaos. Everywhere
Jews were in danger of pogroms, and Trumpeldor
organized a self-defense unit in Petrograd
which assured the safety of the Jewish population
there. Then he returned to Palestine.
Meanwhile the question
arose as to just where the boundary line
was between Syria and Palestine. Three small
Jewish settlements, Metulla, Tel Hai, and
Ayelet Hashachar lay in the disputed region
from which both the French and the British
troops withdrew until the matter was decided.
The Arabs decided to take advantage of the
situation by attacking these colonies. On
the last day of 1919, Metulla was almost
entirely destroyed and the villages of Kefar
Giladi and Tel Hai were attacked. The Jewish
settlers decided to withdraw from these
exposed places. It was then that Trumpeldor,
realizing the importance of retaining that
region as part of Eretz Israel, organized
a group of volunteers, consisting of thirty-five
men and two women, and set out to hold Tel
Hai against Arab attacks.
On the morning of the
11th of Adar, March 1, 1920, a band of several
hundred Arabs made its first attack. It
was beaten off. The band left but soon returned
with reinforcements. Again they were repelled.
This time Trumpeldor was severely wounded.
When he saw that a third attack by a force
of more than two thousand Bedouins was imminent,
he refused to allow his men to carry him
indoors but remained to direct the defense
of the settlement. The Arabs approached
under a white flag and a sheik of the neighborhood
asked to speak to Trumpeldor. When the latter
appeared, there was a rifle volley and the
Arabs turned their horses and fled. Trumpeldor
fell, pierced through the abdomen.
That night he spoke to
his sorrowing companions as they stood around
the death bed. "En davar," (it
doesn't matter), he said to still their
grief; "it is good to die for our country."
There have been many famous
Betaris throught our long history. You can
click on the links below to read about these
special and brave individuals.